Want to know how important it is to have a good estate plan in place? Just ask the family of Vicki Lynn Marshall.
You probably know her as Anna Nicole Smith, the former Playboy playmate who, at age 26, married 89-year-old tycoon J. Howard Marshall II. He died 14 months after they exchanged their June 1994 vows.
Actually, all the principals of this case -- Anna Nicole, her husband and his son, Pearce Marshall, from a previous marriage -- are all dead. Still, executors of both the Smith estate and that of her stepson are plowing ahead. And now the matter will be heard by the Supreme Court.
This is the second time that estate issues involving Anna Nicole have come before the justices. In May 2006, the Court reversed an appeals court ruling that had thrown out a district court's decision to award $89 million of her late husband's money.
Technically, the Supreme Court this term won't be ruling directly on estate matters. It will be deciding whether Smith's legal battle against her former husband's son was a core matter in her subsequent bankruptcy. That ruling will determine whether California had the authority to rule in her favor regarding the inheritance.
But the Anna Nicole Smith case still shines a bright light on the complexities of estate law. And it's an issue that was further complicated this year when the estate tax itself died.
The estate tax is scheduled to return in 2011. However, as I mentioned previously, Congress is likely to make changes to the law that is supposed to take effect.
What Capitol Hill won't do is retroactively reinstate the federal estate tax for the 2010 tax year. And the Supreme Court is part of the reason for that decision.
Sure, the Treasury would love to get its hands on the tax money it lost this year because gazillionaires like Dan Duncan and George Steinbrenner passed away, leaving their estates tax-free.
However, lawmakers don't want to send more estate tax issues to the Supreme Court. That's exactly what they fear would happen if they backdated the tax's application to Jan. 1, 2010.
Have you make plans for distribution of your assets? Regardless of how much or how little you have, an estate plan is essential. Get tips in Bankrate's estate planning guide.
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